Dinners at Baring St. tended to get quite interesting when we had guests over, which we did fairly often. In their teens, Ben and Erin would bring some of their entourage by and we’d have a fine time swapping absurdities and making obscene comments about the food.
Once the weekly communal house meals with the Tilleys dissolved (too many conflicting schedules), we set up a rotating weekly dinner with our friends Deb and Dave. Their daughter, Bessey, was best friends with Cait as they moved from toddlerhood into pre-teens.
Deb, a poet, taught English at Penn; Dave was a photographer, real estate agent and golf referee (a combination I have not encountered elsewhere before or since). These dinners had a stronger intellectual cast without getting righteously boring.
Other guests were all over the place, and none moreso, of course, than Jim Knipfel. He and I always tended to get gigglingly, then howlingly drunk. But it usually took awhile, with a fair amount of food going down before and during the howls.
In those Jim-soaked days, Linda was director of the Powelton Mantua Educational Fund, a local after-school program for non-latchkey kids. They did all sorts of neat things in the couple hours before their parents picked them up, much if not most of it artistic. A tall lovely blonde young lady, Jeannie, taught the art programs and later became lead teacher. (When PMEF closed down a couple years later, Linda made the mistake of asking me what I’d most miss about the place: “Jeannie in shorts.”)
Before Jeannie took the lead, the classes were overseen by LCH (let’s call her) Rachel, a brunette of equal pulchritude but oddly reticent demeanor. She seemed forthcoming yet at the same time … not … quite … in there. And she blinked compulsively, something you’d think would be neither here nor there in conversation but that I found peculiarly unsettling.
One time Rachel and her husband had to go to some meeting or other and asked if their son LCH Dan, Cait’s age, could stay with us till they could pick him up. Fine and dandy. Jim was coming over for dinner too. Finer and dandier.
Aside: Rachel’s husband was some sort of minister: a missionary? His thin face held a thinner, pinched mouth. I think he found it difficult to open it wide. He shook hands with purpose and looked at life in a very purposeful way. Did this somehow relate to Rachel’s blinking? Dan was a nice kid, but had the look of someone seeing himself as continually being very close to doing something that would be considered wrong.
I can’t remember how much I’d had to drink, but we were all having a jolly time, Jim slowly approaching blotto. Dan seemed slightly puzzled by our whole menage. Somehow – I don’t know how it came up – we got off onto a discussion of… not exactly self-harm, but doing ridiculous things to our bodies.
Jim brought up his sometime habit of stapling his head. So of course I had to hunt up our stapler. I brought it down from my writing hutch and handed it to him. He was still wearing his trademark black hat at the table, so he removed it and stapled his head.
He offered the device to anyone else who wanted to join the fun. Linda isn’t into self-mutilation, the kids were off-limits and I was too busy laughing to the point of choking. Cait, as near as I can remember, took it with her usual amused response to Jim. But Dan’s amazement spread across his face like a cosmetic application. I can’t recall anything he said, but his normal worried reticence blossomed. Jim felt encouraged and applied a few more cranial staples, not one of which, I’m glad to say, pierced his skull. (He and I share a rhinoceros upper bone structure.)
Linda was unsurprisingly mortified. Here, as both Rachel’s boss lady and, at the moment, caretaker of her child, she had allowed Dan to be spectator at a remarkably unChristian ritual. Well, when Rachel and minister hubby returned, they quickly learned what the dinner entertainment consisted of. Rachel tried hard to force a smile that didn’t successfully materialize. I was still giggling. Hubbister – oh, that pinched mouth could have cut a slice from the curtains (if we’d had curtains).
I don’t recall that they ever again came by our place. Or that Jim ever again stapled his head in my presence. Dammit.